Is COVID-19 the Silver Lining to Climate Change?

When the pandemic first started and all non-essential workers were ordered to stay at home, transportation drastically decreased resulting in improved air quality and lowering of greenhouse gas emissions.

BBC reported that carbon monoxide levels in NY were reduced by 50% and CO2 emissions dropped by 5-10% when compared to last years levels. China and Italy also experienced similar decreased levels. Canals in Italy became clear and wildlife started coming back. Many photos have been shared through social media of before and during COVID-19 and the positive impacts it is having.

India Gate in New Delhi Photo From: Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images // Dominique Faget/AFP via Getty Images

As the lockdown continued, so did my research. Although the air quality improved, what happens when the lockdown is lifted and everyone returns back to work? While the Earth is getting the chance to breathe again, a lot of plans to make strides for climate change were taken back due to COVID-19. For example, the United Nations annual climate summit got pushed back to 2021. At the summit 196 countries were to introduce plans to meet the goals set in 2015 from the Paris Agreement.

China has already announced that they will be extending deadlines for companies to meet new environmental standards that have been put into place. U.S is delaying a car emission policy that would of significantly reduced greenhouse gas pollution from the U.S. Brazil is reducing the amount of enforcement positions leaving the Amazon more vulnerable than ever for illegal deforestation.

Many other European countries are pushing for the EU to hold policies and initiatives due to the pandemic. This could result in not only putting a hold on climate change policies and actions but potentially cutting corners to catch up financially. The fashion industry got hit hard and many people were furloughed or let go from their job, myself being one of them. Because of the pandemic, orders were put on hold and retail stores were being temporarily shut down leaving factories with an abundance of finished clothes. Many companies tried to save money by canceling orders or refusing to pay factories for the goods that were already completed. This left factories in a tight position financially and some with no other option but to close. Who knows what will happen to all the goods produced that are not being shipped or sold. We can hope that the choices that will be made within brands to make up for lost revenue will also include ethical practices for garment workers.

Other photos have surfaced on social media of the mass amounts of medical masks and gloves being littered all over. People have put their sustainable practices on hold and are mass consuming single use products and disposing of them improperly.

Gary Stokes from OceansAsia conservation group

Now is the opportunity for governments worldwide to decide how they want society to return and how to help economies recover. Should we continue to rely on fossil fuels or could we invest in more clean energy instead? When the stimulus package was being negotiated, and green efforts were suggested to be put into the bill such as larger benefits for companies who invested into green energy and less into fossil fuels - it was shut down followed by a tweet from President Trump saying "This is not about the ridiculous Green New Deal"

Overall, this pandemic is nowhere near a silver lining for climate change. Now more than ever we need a push from the government to put policies in place in favor of climate change and it seems that we are getting the opposite. Why not get economies back up and running AND implement new strategies to reduce emissions. Let's support business that work with the environment and have ethical practices instead of working against it and put other lives at risk.

For most of us, one of the things keeping us sane is going outside for a walk and getting a breath of fresh air. Since I've been home in CNY I go on walks almost daily with my dog and have been noticing and appreciating all the small things like the little colorful wildflowers and birds, even the different types of trees. I'm not used to seeing that in NYC. Most of us go on hikes, walks, or trips to the park or beach. Nature is something that comforts and relaxes us as well as our own health and safety.

Once again, I encourage you to think about the "norm" that you will soon again go back to. Think about if it's what you really want or if there are some changes you could make, small or big, that could help towards climate change. According to Forbes, over $2.8 BILLION has been cancelled in orders from Fashion brands in Bangladesh alone. Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Top Shop, Kohl's, and Primark are a few brands that have refused to pay factories for completed orders. Target, Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, Under Armour, and UNIQLO are some brands that have paid in full for their completed orders. Try to buy from brands and companies that are at least paying their workers for the work they have done.

There are 328 million people in the US alone, if we can all come together we can see that every little change and choice does matter.